New Yorkers continued to mourn two slain police officers Tuesday as officials pressed the divided city to come together in their memory.
“Please embrace those around you as a symbol of our belief that we will move forward together,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said before observing a moment of silence at 2:47 p.m., the time the officers were shot in an ambush Saturday.
He repeated his calls for the city to focus on the officers’ families and called the slayings an attack on democracy and on every New Yorker.
Earlier, De Blasio and his wife spent several minutes at the memorial that has sprung up at the Brooklyn site where Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were assassinated.
At 9 p.m., New York City landmarks including the Empire State Building, One World Trade Center and the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree dimmed their lights for five minutes to honor Liu, 32, and Ramos, 40.
FOR THE RECORD
Dec. 24, 5:50 p.m.: An earlier version of this post said the landmarks dimmed their lights at 6 p.m., but that was Pacific time.
The shootings have strained relations between City Hall and some officers while reopening a debate about how a police department, often under fierce political strains, can deal with a civilian authority of elected officials. For the moment, the mayor and some disgruntled officers have called a truce in the angry rhetoric over who holds blame in the shooting and recent anti-police protests.
New York Police Commissioner William J. Bratton took to the airwaves Tuesday to defend his department.
“It's not easy being a cop in America today,” Bratton said on “CBS This Morning.” “The dangers ... still exist despite crime having gone down fairly dramatically over the last 20 years.”
“It’s a tough job, as we've seen, in some instances, a thankless job,” Bratton said. “Despite that, I'll speak for my city — they've done a remarkable job. They’re keeping crime down; they've been restrained when face-to-face with demonstrators [chanting], you know, ‘Kill the cops’ and the language that's directed at them.”
Bratton was referring to demonstrations that began when a Missouri grand jury decided last month not to indict a Ferguson police officer in the August shooting death of an unarmed black man, Michael Brown. The protests accelerated when a Staten Island grand jury decided this month not to indict a New York police officer who used an apparent chokehold to subdue Eric Garner, an unarmed black man who died during the confrontation, gasping, “I can’t breathe.”
Some demonstrators have reviled the police, and breakaway protesters clashed with officers on the Brooklyn Bridge on Dec. 13. Several officers, including two lieutenants, were injured when they tried to stop demonstrators from tossing a trash can onto the road, police said.
Bratton said the NYPD had ramped up security measures, including directing officers to work in teams and suspending auxiliary patrols, while investigators learn more about Ismaaiyl Brinsley, 28, who officials say shot the two officers, then fled and committed suicide.
Police are investigating how Brinsley came to be carrying cash in $100 bills, Bratton said. “He doesn’t seem to have a residence; he just crashes on somebody’s couch. But he seems to have had money — cash in $100 bills. So we’re checking very closely all of his relationships. What was his world like?”
The gun Brinsley used was traced back to 1996, when it was sold at an Atlanta pawnshop, according to officials at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. But it’s unclear how it got into Brinsley’s hands.
The Taurus 9-millimeter was purchased by a man who worked at a restaurant and car dealership, said Special Agent in Charge Aladino Ortiz of the Atlanta ATF office.
That man sold the weapon to a co-worker at the auto dealership in 1998, when Brinsley was about 12 years old.
“At this point, the individual doesn’t remember who he sold the gun to,” Ortiz said. “We are continuing to follow the leads, but the trail is a little cold at this point. ... We may never know how Mr. Brinsley got it into his hands.”
Brinsley shot his former girlfriend, Shaneka Thompson, early Saturday in Maryland before going to Brooklyn. Thompson’s condition was upgraded Tuesday from critical to serious, and she is expected to survive.
On Tuesday night, despite officials’ pleas to suspend demonstrations until after the officers’ funerals, hundreds of protesters took to the streets of Manhattan, chanting, “Black lives matter” and “Hey-hey, ho-ho, these racist cops have got to go.”
Protesters assembled outside the Plaza Hotel and marched up Fifth Avenue into East Harlem, mainly on the sidewalk. A phalanx of officers followed but did not interfere. Police said no one had been arrested as of 9:15 p.m.
New York continued to prepare for the slain officers’ funerals, with Ramos’ set for Saturday. The White House announced that Vice President Joe Biden would attend. Liu’s funeral has not been scheduled.
New York has often been the scene of fierce battles between elected officials and public employees, especially police. Changes in the department to make it more accountable to civilians have led to problems.
For example, in 1992, when then-Mayor David Dinkins was pushing for a more independent civilian complaint review board, thousands of off-duty officers demonstrated at City Hall. The protest quickly turned into a riot during which police hurled racial epithets at the African American mayor.
Rudolph Giuliani, who was a mayoral contender, was famously present to back the unruly cops against the Dinkins administration, helping to solidify his reputation as a crime fighter. Giuliani served as mayor and is now a private security consultant. He has been recently visible on television backing police.
De Blasio has said repeatedly that he is not anti-police, but the police union and elements in the department dispute that. They complain about his comments after the Missouri grand jury’s decision, when he noted that he warned his biracial son to be careful around police.
The police also fault De Blasio for not speaking out against demonstrators, especially when they shout anti-police slogans.
Times staff writer Javier Panzar contributed to this report.